The Four Major Dimensions of Culture

Below is an overview of the four major dimensions of culture.

(adapted from the model of professor Geert Hofstede)

1. Hierarchy

Basic Traits of Strong/ Weak Hierarchy

Strong Hierarchy Weak Hierarchy
Power / Authority are facts of life Minimize social / class structures
Everyone has a specific place No set hierarchy
Those in power emphasize position Those in power minimize position
Respect for authority Respect for individuality
Centralized authority Decentralized authority

Predictors of Hierarchy

Predictors Strong Weak
Climate warm cold
Population Size large small
Wealth unequal distribution equal distribution

Some Consequences:

In Strong Hierarchy cultures: obedience to authority (parent, boss, officials) is expected; language filled with power or hierarchy indicators;

Managers / teachers tend to be autocratic while subordinates expect direct supervision.

In Weak Hierarchy cultures, emphasis is on challenging decisions, expecting autonomy and independence.

2. Loyalty

This axis focuses on relationships between the individual and the group. Cultures that are predominantly Loyal to Self, believe the individual is the most important unit. They encourage:

  • People taking care of themselves
  • Making decisions based on individual needs
  • I” mentality

Cultures that are predominantly Loyal to their Group, believe the group is the most important unit. They encourage:

  • Primary loyalty to group (nuclear family, extended family, caste, organization)
  • Decision-making based on what is best for the group.
  • Dependence on organization and institutions (Expectation that organization / institution / group will take care of individual)
  • We” mentality

Predictors of Loyal to Self and Loyal to their Group are:

Predictors Loyal to Self (high score) Loyal to their Group (low score)
Economic development developed / wealthy underdeveloped / poor
Climate cold warm
Power-distance low high

Some Consequences:

Loyal to Self cultures — people speak out, question, confrontational, are direct.

Loyal to their Group cultures — people blend in, avoidance conflict, use intermediaries.

3. Goal-oriented/ Process-oriented

This axis focuses on to what extent a society stresses achievement or nurture.  Goal-oriented is seen to be the trait that emphasizes ambition, acquisition of wealth, and differentiated gender roles.  Process-oriented is seen to be the trait that stresses caring and nurturing behaviors, sexuality equality, environmental awareness, and more fluid gender roles.

Predictor:  Climate appears to be the best predictor of Goal-oriented/ Process-oriented.  Cultures in warm climates tend to be goal-oriented; cooler climates tend to be process-oriented.

Some consequences:

Goal-oriented societies tend to see men as assertive and women as nurturing.  Men tend to be competitive, visible, stress success, and vocation-oriented.Process-oriented societies tend to have both men and women in nurturing roles and much less emphasis on assertiveness for either. Both men and women focus on cooperation, awareness of those who are in need, social accommodation is important.

4. Predictability

This axis focuses on how cultures adapt to changes and cope with uncertainty. Emphasis is on the extent to which a culture feels threatened or is anxious about ambiguity.

Basic Traits of High / Low Anxiety Avoidance

High Predictability Low Predictability
Have more formal rules Believe that the fewer rules the better
Prefer details, specific plans Tolerate generalization
Less tolerant of deviant ideas Tolerate deviance
Consensus seeking Seek individual opinions
Minimize risk Approve of risk-taking
Ritualized / ceremonial Avoid ritualization and ceremony
Belief in absolute truth / high expertise Accept relativity of belief


High Low
Tend to be low in modernization (or just at the start) Tend to be modern
Often in highly changeable situations (economic, political, social) Tend to be stable (economic, political, social)
Often characterized by “absolute” religions (Catholicism, Islam) Religions emphasize relativity (Buddhism, Unitarianism)
Extensive legislative/judicial system

Some Consequences:

High Predictability culture are more resistant to change, often characterized by more elaborate rituals / religious practices.
Low Predictability cultures tend to accept competition and conflict, tolerate dissent and deviance.

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Read here an article that discusses that similar cultures can still have difficulties